The path to sustainability through gender sensitivity and disaster resiliency

September 1, 2020 | By: Arch. Maria Benita Ochoa-Regala (as published in The Manila Times last September 1, 2020)

HOUSING as a basic human right provides the impetus of putting in place the mechanisms for achieving gender sensitivity in housing. In 2010, the National Housing Authority (NHA) conducted its first Design Conference in Housing with the end in view of putting gender perspective in its policies, plans and programs. I was then appointed as the conference director and the department manager of the Housing Technology Development Office. It was a first in many years dealing mainly with housing design, and was attended by representatives from the government, private developers, academe, some non-government organizations and most importantly, the community. This was followed by regional and multi-sectoral consultations through focused group discussions (FGDs) to determine the local and cultural considerations that must be undertaken to improve the living conditions of the housing beneficiaries from the low-income sector.

The rowhouse with loft and store space provision to encourage home-based livelihood activities.

To focus on exploring opportunities and managing implications in the pursuit of sustainability in housing, two presentations relating to integrated policies (cross-sectional governance and issues concerning gender mainstreaming in housing development) were included in the conference.

These are the laws affecting women and men in housing, and the issues confronting women and men on the three entry points on gender sensitivity ? access to housing, participation in the planning process, and the physical design at the neighborhood and household levels.

Some would argue that gender is not an issue in housing for as long as the needs of the family are addressed. However, the results of the conference showed that there are certain needs of each family member such as the need for privacy of spouses, the children, as well as the elderly, which would require careful planning and attention.

There were seven major issues raised during the conference: access to basic services, safety and security, social interaction, design innovation and technology, care for the environment income generation, and affordability. After the completion of the FGDs, a gender-planning matrix was formulated to address the vulnerability in the seven issues raised. So far, the matrix has become the basis for the improvement of the housing designs of NHA.

Some of the design innovations to address privacy and income generation was the lofted housing unit with a floor area of 22 square meters (sqm), expandable to 33 sqm on a 40-sqm lot. A further enhancement was made to include a store space within the unit to help augment household income within their homes. The store space can be used for a sari-sari store, a beauty parlor or barbershop, a computer shop, or even for carpentry. The additional cost for the enhancement was very reasonable, an increase of approximately 20 percent over its original price.

Although there several laws that address these concerns such as the National Building Code and Fire Code, it takes a lot of creative thinking on how to provide such measures and at the same time taking into consideration the cost of providing them. It is a known fact that public housing is budget-driven. While housing production costs continue to rise, affordability levels remain very low and, historically, the annual government subsidy for housing on the average, is a mere 2 percent of the total government budget, or even less.

The design challenge is even greater for this sector as it involves livability against affordability and how much subsidy the government is willing to provide. Being sensitive in trying to reduce the vulnerability of the low-income people, however, is the key to having a responsive housing program.

In 2013, after the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, another design conference was organized by the NHA to determine disaster resiliency parameters for its housing projects as mandated by the previous (Aquino) administration. The final output of this conference became the basis for the disaster resiliency parameters used for the housing projects. However, it cannot be denied that planning and design is only a part of the whole project cycle, wherein construction implementation is crucial to its success, notwithstanding some unnecessary political interventions that happened along the way.

In 2017, as an offshoot of these two conferences, a design manual (Guidelines on One-Story Dwelling Units) was published in 2017, a collaboration project with the Bureau of Design of the Department of Public Works and Highways, Build Change, an international non-governmental organization; and the Accreditation of Innovative Technologies for Housing. The manual mainly served as a guide to builders on proper construction methodology. It also emphasized that gender sensitivity and disaster resiliency on housing are critical to achieve sustainability

In 2019, nine years after the first design conference, the NHA was awarded the Gadtimpala Bronze Award by the Philippine Commission for Women in recognition for its efforts on gender mainstreaming in most of its policies, plans, and programs with the improved housing design included.

The issues raised 10 years ago up to this day has become more pronounced than ever. As we are faced with climate change and environmental issues, gender sensitivity, and now this coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, it is necessary to look back and review our housing policies, plans and programs. More particularly, on the physical design to include health protocols, alongside with a robust financing policy; and how we can engage multi-sectoral participation during these critical times. Equitable access to housing, genuine participation by the major stakeholders, and the improvement of the housing product should eventually lead to customer satisfaction, which is the very essence of public housing.

Architects as planners must be able to conduct their own research studies in order to validate their design solutions. This can be done through an effective monitoring and evaluation system, where goals and objectives are clearly defined, and success indicators are determined at the onset of the project conceptualization. Moreover, as one goes through the planning and implementation stage, one must stay updated and informed. In time, this particular responsive, culturally attuned design may just lead us towards a more sustainable housing solution.

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